x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Knitting yarn at the tennis is a stitch up

I refer to the treacherous spectator who dared to knit – knit! – from her seat at Wimbledon. 'How very dare she!' was the general response of the media.

There was outrage when a BBC cameraman captured a woman knitting at Wimbledon. Courtesy BBC
There was outrage when a BBC cameraman captured a woman knitting at Wimbledon. Courtesy BBC

Before this week, the most famous needle at Wimbledon was between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Not any more. Thanks to an eagle-eyed BBC cameraman, some haughty punditry and a collective, wilful irrationality when it comes to sport, Wimbledon's most notorious needle is now the one which was doing a rather tidy purl stitch during the Andy Murray-Marcos Baghdatis match.

I refer, of course, to the treacherous spectator who dared to knit - knit! - from her seat in the stands at Centre Court.

"How very dare she!" was the general response of the media.

"If the players looked up and saw that …" spluttered one BBC commentator, failing to finish his sentence because, presumably, the consequences of a professional tennis player glancing at a woman knitting are simply too terrible to articulate.

"It was a good match, I can't believe she was working on a sweater," said an American newscaster on one of countless international news shows to pass judgement.

"It's summertime, who needs a sweater?!" he added, which rather makes me suspect he has never experienced a British summer or, indeed, watched a minute of Wimbledon in his life.

And, with weary inevitability, an online lynch mob mustered, full of righteous anger that someone lucky enough to afford Centre Court tickets did not even care about the game.

It was all hogwash, of course.

Firstly, most of the women in my family knit, and I can assure you that it is not mutually exclusive of watching sport. My grandmother could knit a garment of Byzantine complexity while simultaneously following the snooker, chain-smoking and keeping us abreast of every neighbours' recent medical history. A basic ribbing stitch/ tennis match combination would have been a doddle.

Secondly, knitting is a form of stress relief. It is not so different, but far more constructive, to chewing gum or your own body parts. If the England football manager Roy Hodgson had learnt to knit, he might have returned from Euro 2012 with a full set of fingernails, not to mention a rather fetching crew-neck sweater.

Thirdly, knitting is far less offensive than many of the boorish habits of tennis fans which are now ignored or even indulged: deliberately disrupting a player's concentration before serve, celebrating mistakes, singing Cliff Richard songs, harassing officials.

You may recall, for example, how the crowd booed the decision to forfeit this year's Queen's Club final after David Nalbandian kicked an advertising board into a line judge's shin, drawing blood. The "genteel" crowd clearly would have preferred a new line judge brought on, like fresh meat for the gladiators at Rome's Colosseum. (A Wimbledon crowd had a similar reaction when a young Tim Henman lashed out and accidentally struck a ball girl.)

As for the mobbing and taunting of players, Serena Williams has requested a review of security arrangements after running the gauntlet of fans - some friendly, others less so - on Court Two. We received her comments with a smirk. "Suck it up, Serena, you big baby!" was the general tone.

The tennis family, it seems, is willing to indulge the nutters but not the knitters.

The explanation for this unspoken conspiracy is very simple. Most forms of loutish behaviour and overt displays of emotion can be labelled "passion".

Sport, especially televised sport, needs passion. We subconsciously worry that, without those frequent shots of fans wailing, cheering and gnashing their teeth, a chilling realisation may descend.

"Hang on," we may think, "this is just two chaps knocking a ball over a net. A mildly diverting spectacle, for sure, but I should probably go and do something more useful with my time."

Sports broadcasters understand this phenomenon, and TV lays the passion on thick to justify its prominence in our culture. Perhaps that is why Uefa felt the need to massage its coverage of the Germany-Italy game at Euro 2012, splicing in some old footage of a weeping German fan after Mario Balotelli scored. In fact, she had been crying before kick-off, during her national anthem.

A woman knitting is like kryptonite to the self-appointed superdrama of sport, her needles piercing the bubble of self-importance.

It suggests that she has come not to cheer herself hoarse, wring herself dry, lay her guts on the line or assume her patriotic duty as the mythical "12th man" (or whatever the tennis equivalent is).

She is just having a nice day at the tennis, refreshingly unburdened by the synthetic "passion" demanded of her.

This woman was not knitting a garment, but for tugging at the Emperor's New Clothes which shroud sport. No wonder she was vilified.

sports@thenational.ae

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